By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Emerging from the Christmas season we hope and pray that we are blessed in spirit in the knowledge that our faith in the Son of God “conquers the world” as we proclaimed in the scriptures on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
This metanoia is so much more than any and all new year’s resolutions that too often fold and crumple like discarded wrapping paper. Rather, it is a renewed perspective alive in the Spirit of God who hovers, enlightening our minds, hearts and imaginations in the awareness that we are God’s children now, beloved in a way that surpasses all understanding.
On that first Christmas night, the heavens were opened with the chorus of angels singing, “glory to God in the highest.” Years later they were torn asunder at the Baptism in the Jordan River by the voice of the God of eternal glory, revealing that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of history and the beloved Son of the Father, the Word made flesh. “You are my beloved Son; on you my favor rests.”
In this time of raging pandemic, appalling civil strife and violence, and seemingly intractable rancor and division, where do we find the light and the power to live a life worthy of our calling as God’s children?
Look no further than to the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, a Christmas day proclamation, which is resplendent with hope in the beloved Son of God, the eternal Word, for our unstable and disturbed times. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
Even now, the darkness has not overcome this divine life and light. Unfortunately, this vision for our lives can easily be lost in the assault of shadows, darkness and death.
Nonetheless, the Christmas season was a celebration of the light shining in the darkness, inviting us to renew our vision to see that God is with us, Emmanuel. The Incarnation raises us up to heaven’s door, and the Baptism of the Lord speaks of God’s full immersion in all things human, who lays aside his glory and humbly joins us in our sinfulness. Like the Blessed Mother, it behooves us to cherish the gift of faith in the manner she embraced the Christ child in her arms, pondering what this treasure means for our lives.
The mystery of our faith that conquers the world reveals to us that the wood of the manger is never separated from the wood of the Cross. The baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is inseparable from the crucifixion; his immersion in water anticipates his immolation on the Cross. It dawns upon us when we take these things to heart that the entire New Testament was written in the aftermath of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
How then does our baptism unite us to the beloved Son of God, the Light that shines in the darkness?
A passage that is often selected from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans for the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism and at many funeral liturgies unfolds the mystery. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)
Forgiveness of sin, growth in the Lord, no longer slaves to sin, fear and hopelessness, and newness of life are essential signs that we are living a life worthy of our calling. It is a humble awareness inspired by the Holy Spirit, cleansed by waters made holy, and blood poured out on the Cross, that we belong ultimately to God.
We are beloved sons and daughters of God grafted onto the living vine, the Body of Christ, the church. The love of Christ impels us to live our baptism, our vocation, our discipleship growing in the power of faith to know that we are God’s beloved children, fully immersed in this world, committed to greater justice and peace for all, and always leaving an opening for eternal life to hover close to our daily preoccupations and decisions.